The BKON brewer is already known for its hi-tech handling of fine tea leaves, but could it be the next-wave signature drink (coffee or otherwise) brewer of every disposable-income-laden cafe owner's dreams? This question and many more lingered on the refined palates of all who attended last week's BKON demonstration at New York's Counter Culture Coffee training lab, where chef Hugh Acheson presided as everything from oolong tea to vodka to cascara was infused in the space-age drink-maker.
While a capable demonstration of Rishi teas and creatively composed cocktails (tequila with bing cherries and chile de arbol, anyone?) dominated the lab's front rooms, it was in the way-way back where Acheson, joined by barista Dale Donchey from Acheson's Empire State South, made the coffee magic happen. Acheson and Empire State South have long been on the cutting edge of coffee in restaurants, and we at Sprudge were curious to see what they'd make of this new secret weapon.
This night brought New York City two coffee “signature drinks” served at Atlanta's Empire State South, as Donchey and Acheson helmed one of the BKON brewers belonging to Counter Culture. (Counter Culture is BKON's first “content partner for coffee”, according to BKON co-founder Lou Vastardis, who announced last week that Stumptown Coffee Roasters has also signed on to help explore the brewer's potential.) The first, the “Smokey Joe”, married a smoked chamomile and honey foam with cascara and lemon tea–long on smoke and honey and with the unexpected caffeine liveliness of cascara, in a clear, refreshing expression of each flavor.
The “Milk & Spice” aimed more for the jugular: this Szechuan peppercorn-, clove-, cardamom-, and fennel-infused milk based drink fuses with Counter Culture's Big Trouble (née Toscano) espresso for a startling kick in the cup.
“The idea was to have a cappuccino that made your mouth go numb,” said Donchey, who directs the coffee bar at Empire State South and also works as a barista there. “Because I'm twisted,” he added.
The peppercorn spice was present in the cup, but alas, I still felt my tongue afterwards. It was time to get the low-down from Chef Acheson on the future of BKON in fine dining beverage service.
“It needs a lot of tinkering with,” said Acheson, of the in-development technology. “But I like that. We all like toys,” he added.
“We think it is ideal for tea. It just doesn't overextract tannins, temperature control is exact,” said Acheson, who hopes the brewer will serve as a bridge between coffee people—who are already drawn to the brewer's capabilties—and those beginning to discover the vast landscape of tea.
The first hundred BKON units are starting to ship out in the coming weeks, and more partnerships are on the horizon. For now though, BKON remains an experimental tool on the bar at Empire State South and at Counter Culture and BKON labs throughout the east.
Vastardis—along with his brother and BKON co-founder Dean—has big plans for the BKON brewer, from rolling out the tea functionality in more retail outlets to investing heavily in developing their coffee program, to a whole range of wild goals with the online capabilities of the brewer, under their “BKON Craft Cloud” program. The brothers envision a future where being able to easily share exact recipes from the networked brewers will enable new levels of exchange and precision. “We are aiming to use the control that reduced pressure has on extraction to enhance the brew quality and cup consistency across multiple locations with different grinders and water,” said Lou Vastardis via email. Looking even further ahead, he added, “being able to calibrate recipes at one’s HQ and have customers replicate the same flavor experience remotely is the holy grail.”
With brewers starting to appear across North America, soon we'll get to see how that quest plays out.
Liz Clayton is the Associate Editor at Sprudge.com, and helms our NYC desk. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.